ALASKA DAY – A U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka color guard pauses on their march down Lincoln Street as Jayhawk helicopters fly over St. Michael's Cathedral during the Alaska Day parade Friday. Hundreds turned out for the parade and a full schedule of events over the weekend. More photos from the Alaska Day Festival are printed on page 8 of today's Sentinel. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

AG: School Funding Violates Constitution

By Sentinel Staff
    Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson issued a formal legal opinion today that the fiscal year 2020 education funding in a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Walker last year is unconstitutional.
    Gov. Mike Dunleavy referred to the imminent ruling by the attorney general in a Tuesday Facebook “town meeting,” in which he commented on the absence of education funding in either of the operating budget bills passed by the state House and Senate this year. Those bills are presently in a House-Senate conference committee.
    “Failing to fund education in the budget ignores the constitution,” Dunleavy said in the Tuesday Facebook program, adding that “it creates a situation where education will not be funded after June 30, 2019.”
    In its news release on Clarkson’s education opinion today the Alaska Department of Law said:
    “The Attorney General was asked ‘whether an appropriation of future revenues for K-12 education spending for fiscal year 2020 included in an appropriation bill enacted in 2018 was consistent with the requirements of article IX of the Alaska Constitution.’ The opinion finds that the appropriation violates the constitutional annual budgeting process, the dedicated funds clause, and the Executive Budget Act. This leads to the conclusion: ‘Absent an appropriation for FY20 K-12 education in the budget bills passed this legislative session, the only appropriation for education will be one that is unconstitutional in the view of the Department of Law.’ ”
    The governor’s office said in a news release Wednesday that he “has called on the Legislature to avoid a precedent-setting constitutional standoff by funding education in the FY2020 budget, which he ‘will not veto… in any form or fashion.’”
    Both Houses have chosen to rely on legislation passed in 2018, and signed into law by then-Gov. Bill Walker, which set aside $1.6 billion in state funding for education in FY2020.
    The intent of  the 2018 act was to give advance notice to school districts throughout the state on how much they could expect in the following year’s budget process, because their budgets were usually due for final adoption prior to the Legislature’s action on the budget.
     The state operating budget that Dunleavy submitted to the Legislature in February had a $321 million cut for education, which would have major impacts to local school districts.
    Realizing that it would be difficult to override potential increases that they might add for school funding, the leaders in both the Senate and the House this year chose to rely on the 2018-approved funding for 2020 education funding, which was in line with the prior year’s. The appropriation, under that theory, is not subject to line item vetoes by Dunleavy because only Walker could veto legislation passed when he was governor.
    In his Facebook statement on Tuesday Dunleavy said:
    “Although we initially proposed reductions in education, we have said to legislative leadership ‘put the funding in, make sure there’s funding in the budget and we will not veto that funding in any form or fashion.’ We will let that funding go through, so we can have that conversation going into next year on what reforms we want to look at in education.”
    The Department of Law’s opinion released today follows up on the warning to the same effect that Clarkson issued to the Legislature on April 9.
    Asked for his response to Clarkson’s formal opinion today, Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a member of the majority coalition in the House, said:
    “I categorically reject any notion that the Legislature will surrender its constitutional power of appropriation to the governor, including our discretion to forward fund public education to eliminate the god-awful guessing game school districts have to deal with every budget cycle.”
    Reaction to Clarkson’s legal opinion by other members of the House and Senate leadership was not available by Sentinel press time today.

 
   


   

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